Jones v. City of St. Louis, 4:19-cv-02583

CourtUnited States District Courts. 8th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Missouri)
Writing for the CourtAUDREY G. FLEISSIG UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
PartiesLAURA JONES, Plaintiff, v. CITY OF ST. LOUIS, et al., Defendants.
Docket Number4:19-cv-02583
Decision Date22 April 2022

LAURA JONES, Plaintiff,
v.

CITY OF ST. LOUIS, et al., Defendants.

No. 4:19-cv-02583

United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division

April 22, 2022


MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

AUDREY G. FLEISSIG UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

Plaintiff Laura Jones alleges that she was injured by officers of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department (“SLMPD”) while attending a protest in downtown St. Louis. She has sued City of St. Louis (the “City”) and SLMPD officers Timothy Turner, Jonathan Vanarsdale, Brian DeMatteis, Joshua Hall, and unidentified John Does 1 and 2, [1]asserting claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and state law. The matter is now before the Court on the named Defendants' motion for summary judgment. ECF No. 63.

For the reasons set forth below, Defendants' motion will be granted in part and denied in part. The motion will be granted with respect to Plaintiff's claims for violation of her First Amendment rights and for municipal liability under § 1983, but the motion will be otherwise denied. Further, the Court will decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over Plaintiff's state-law claims against the City and will dismiss those

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claims without prejudice. Finally, the Court will order Plaintiff to show cause why the Doe Defendants should not be dismissed.

BACKGROUND

Downtown Protests

Viewed in the light most favorable to Plaintiff, the facts are as follows. On September 15, 2017, SLMPD Officer Jason Stockley was acquitted of the murder of St. Louis resident Anthony Lamar Smith. ECF No. 75, Pl.'s Resp. to Defs.' Statement of Uncontroverted Material Facts (“SUMF”) ¶ 1. In response to the acquittal, many people gathered in downtown St. Louis that day to protest. SUMF ¶ 2.

The record contains extensive video and photographic evidence of the downtown protest, including cell phone videos, SLMPD documentary team videos, aerial and on-the-ground videos from media outlets, surveillance videos from fixed cameras, and still photographs, all from different angles. The parties have also added captions and other annotations to some of the video and photographic evidence.

At approximately 1:30 PM on September 15, 2017, before Plaintiff arrived downtown, the SLMPD was in the process of loading officers onto buses in order to remove them from the downtown area where protests were occurring. SUMF ¶ 4. In response, some protestors formed a wall in an attempt to prevent the buses from leaving, and a few protestors threw items, such as water bottles, at the buses. SUMF ¶¶ 6-11. The SLMPD deployed a Bicycle Response Team (BRT) to help extract the buses, and the buses thereafter left the area. SUMF ¶¶ 13-15

More than three hours later, around approximately 5:00 p.m., Plaintiff arrived

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downtown and joined a crowd protestors near the intersection of Clark Avenue and Tucker Boulevard. Hundreds of individuals were assembled or milling around at or near this intersection. Around this time, a couple of individuals jumped on and kicked the windshield of a vacant police vehicle parked on Clark, just west of the intersection with Tucker, before running away. SUMF ¶ 15; see also ECF No. 75-2, Pl.'s Ex. 2, at 47. The SLMPD sent Special Operations officers and BRT officers to the intersection to respond, but a few individuals out of the hundreds in the crowd began throwing items at these officers. SUMF ¶¶ 16-20. The SLMPD then determined it necessary to dispatch the Civil Disobedience Team (CDT) to the intersection. SUMF ¶ 21.

Shortly thereafter, the CDT officers formed a line on Clark, facing west toward its interaction with Tucker, where a crowd of protestors, including Plaintiff, was gathered. The line of CDT officers held up shields in front of them. Plaintiff moved to the front of the crowd and stood in front of the CDT line with her arms outstretched above her head and made “peace signs” with each hand. She was surrounded by several other protestors. Meanwhile, a handful of individuals approximately 50 feet behind Plaintiff, near the northwest corner of Clark and Tucker, continued to throw water bottles and also began to throw pieces of concrete from a broken manhole cover at the officers. The broken manhole cover was located on Tucker Boulevard, just north of the intersection with Clark. Plaintiff was not throwing any objects, and from the video footage, it does not appear that anyone immediately surrounding her was either. However, concrete and water bottles can be seen flying overhead toward the CDT line from the Clark and Tucker intersection behind Plaintiff.

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According to video and other evidence, the following events then transpired very quickly, within the span of several seconds. The CDT line advanced forward toward Plaintiff while an SLMPD sergeant not named in this action, Brian Rossomanno, began shouting over a loudspeaker. See ECF No. 15, Defs.' Ex. R, at 1:28. Plaintiff heard the police announce something over a loudspeaker, but she could not determine what was said. SUMF ¶ 44. However, video evidence confirms that Sergeant Rossomanno was beginning to announce what would be his first dispersal order. See ECF No. 66-14, Defs.' Ex. Q, at 31:34.

The remaining named Defendant officers were among the officers near the front of the CDT line. They assert that they were instructed to move toward the protestors in order to occupy the portion of the intersection where the broken manhole cover was located. SUMF ¶ 31.

As Plaintiff focused on discerning the message from the loudspeaker, an unidentified police officer (John Doe No. 1 in Plaintiff's lawsuit) suddenly sprayed Plaintiff in the eyes with pepper spray while the line of CDT officers continued to advance. Almost immediately after Plaintiff was sprayed, and while Plaintiff was temporarily blinded from the pepper spray, the moving line of CDT officers reached and made physical contact with Plaintiff. Plaintiff screamed as these events took place.

The timing of Sergeant Rossomanno's first dispersal order and officers' use of pepper spray and other force on Plaintiff is somewhat unclear from the video evidence. In one video, Sgt. Rossomanno can be heard beginning to announce an order at about 8:47. ECF No. 66-7. Defs.' Ex. H, at 8:47. Seconds later, Plaintiff can be heard

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screaming. Id. at 8:50. By the time the dispersal order is completed at about 9:03, Plaintiff can be seen lying motionless on the ground beneath the advancing officers. Video evidence from other angles suggests that the dispersal order began after the officers advanced, and the order was not completed until Plaintiff was already on the ground. See ECF No. 66-14, Defs.' Ex. Q, at 31:39; ECF No. 66-6, Defs.' Ex. G, at 8:19; ECF No. 66-15, Defs.' Ex. R, at 1:34.

The nature of the officers' contact with Plaintiff is also in dispute. According to Plaintiff, Vanarsdale pushed or shoved Plaintiff backward with his shield, and Turner used his left arm to push Plaintiff onto the ground. SUMF ¶¶ 48-52. Plaintiff then curled herself into a fetal position on the ground to avoid being injured by the other officers. ECF No. 86, Defs.' Resp. to Pl.'s Additional Statement of Uncontroverted Material Facts (“ASUMF”) ¶ 18.

Another protestor attempted to aid Plaintiff while she lay on the pavement, but DeMatteis rushed forward and pressed Plaintiff against the ground with his shield, which prevented the other protestors from reaching her. While Plaintiff remained on the ground, DeMatteis then kicked or struck Plaintiff as he pressed forward toward other fleeing protestors.[2] SUMF ¶ 53. As the rest of the CDT line advanced, Hall also kicked or struck plaintiff with his foot as he stepped over her body. SUMF ¶ 53.

After the CDT line passed Plaintiff, other officers pulled her to her feet, restrained

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her hands, placed her in handcuffs, and then led her away from the protest.[3] SUMF ¶¶ 54-57. Some other protestors who failed to move away from the CDT officers were also arrested, but most of the protestors were permitted to leave the area. SUMF ¶ 58. Plaintiff was arrested for interfering with law enforcement, but no formal charges were ever filed against her. SUMF ¶¶ 57, 63.

Turner testified by deposition that Plaintiff was arrested for interfering with police because she refused to disperse after orders were given to disperse. ECF No. 66-9, Defs.' Ex. K, Turner dep. at 83:19-84:4. Plaintiff suffered extensive bruising and an asthma attack as a result of the CDT officers' use of force. She also suffered psychological trauma from the encounter.

City Policies, Practices, and Training

The City has instituted a variety of policies and procedures to regulate the use of force by officers. The City has a written use-of-force policy which requires the Department of Personnel, Police Division, to identify all incidents involving the use of force by officers. The policy requires all officers to document the use of force, and these use of force reports are reviewed by supervisors. If supervisory officers believe the use of force was excessive or unwarranted, they can investigate further or initiate disciplinary proceedings. Further, the SLPMD maintains an Internal Affairs Division which investigates some civilian complaints against officers.

The use-of-force policy also includes regulations which apply to “mass civil

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disobedience contexts, ” and which specifically regulate the deployment of chemical agents for crowd dispersal. The latter regulations were added to the SLMPD's use-of-force policy pursuant to a settlement agreement in Templeton v. Dotson, No. 4:14CV2019 CEJ (E.D. Mo.), entered on March 25, 2015. That settlement agreement prohibited the SLMPD from deploying chemical agents for the purpose of dispersing individuals engaged in non-criminal activity unless officers (a) issue a clear and unambiguous warning, (b) provide individuals sufficient opportunity to heed the warning, (c) reasonably attempt to minimize the impact of...

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